When I left Japan in 2015, I promised to come back for a visit once I would be studying in China. Originally I had planned to go in January, but then the thesis …happened. In April, when my Japanese “aunt and uncle” came to visit, I realised I needed to get a move on and started planning. A few weeks later, with my thesis defended and a date set for graduation, I booked my flights.
Shanghai → Sapporo → Tokyo → Matsuyama → Shanghai
It took a bit of research and several phone calls (budget airlines in Asia can be a nightmare), but I managed to get myself 3 flights for £165 and one free flight using up miles from when I flew to New York. Bargain!?
So at the end of May I flew to Sapporo, where I stayed for a few nights with the family I met on my first ever solo holiday. It was the perfect balance of slow days (we spent some time with their grandchildren, one day we drove to a famous all-you-can-eat melon café about an hour away to find that they had run out of melon) and amazing dinners (sushi, yakiniku, jengisukan), exactly what I needed to refresh. I may not have gone exploring like the previous times I had been in Hokkaido, but it gave me a chance to relax in the mild weather and catch up with my friends.
From there I made a one-night stop in Tokyo to catch up with two friends. So, basically, more food, and some green tea cocktails to mix it up. I stayed in a hostel in Ginza simply because I’d never been to that district and it was well connected to the airport. Ginza is filled with luxurious shops and very well dressed people, the streets clean and sparkly even by Tokyo’s high standards, and the hostel “Book Tea Bed” was awesome – it had beds hidden inside/behind bookshelves and its own little café.
After that whirlwind trip, I flew down to my town in Ehime prefecture where I had lived and worked. First I stayed with my friends who have two kids. We had a takoyaki (octopus pancake ball) party with some other friends, and spent lots of time catching up. I managed to create drama when I got locked in the house one day, but luckily they found it as funny as I did. They were both working, so I went out and met other friends during the day. Highlights included a doggy photoshoot with my Japanese uncle and desperately driving around Ozu with my friend in search of cakes (our favourite café was closed).
Over the weekend I stayed with my German friend since we had so many plans together – a huge party she had organised so that I could see all of my work friends, a morning of coffee and wandering in the irises in the mountains, lunch at a fancy new French restaurant with two more friends, a get-together with the band, a trip to the coast for kaisendon (fresh seafood rice bowl) and driving as the sun set, and an evening of taiko with the taiko ladies I used to practise with.
The final days were spent with another friend and former colleague at her house – crazy evenings playing with her three kids, daytimes meeting up with other friends for ice cream, helping out in a friend’s new guesthouse, and lots more catching up. It was perfect.
I can’t believe how lucky I am to have so many friends in Japan who were happy to hang out again after two years. I was so grateful for every happy reunion, the moments of solidarity and all the love. I will treasure the memories from the two weeks there until I get to go back and see them all once again.